God has not given up on us. God is speaking to our heart drawing us back into a relationship with himself that is marked by righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy and faithfulness.
Through this lesson students should:
Understand that God never wants to let us go.
Define righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy and faithfulness.
Begin to understand how we must live in righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy and faithfulness if we desire to more fully know God.
Catching up on the story:
Hosea has diagnosed Israel’s main problem and it is idolatry. The root of idolatry is believing that someone or something is responsible for the good gifts of life and health that we have received from God. This idolatry caused Israel to chase after other “lovers” who promised her protection and abundance. God promised to withhold those good gifts and Israel would come to her senses and know that neither Baal nor anything else could provide for her. God is hoping that Israel will remember how God has provided for Israel so that she might return to him.
The second half of chapter 2 begins with a “therefore.” At first glance this “therefore” may seem a bit out of place, as the last lines of verse 13 describe how Israel made herself beautiful so that she could go after her lovers, totally forgetting her husband. This “therefore” marks God’s second response to Israel’s unfaithfulness, the first being judgment and the natural consequences of her unfaithfulness. This second response is one of hope and renewal. There is a sense here that God understands that punishment upon Israel will not completely and totally fix the problem. What is needed is not an ending to the relationship between God and Israel but a new beginning.
The word, therefore, is always followed by some kind of result, be it an action or a logical conclusion to a thought or train of thought. The resulting action that follows this is God’s turning again toward Israel to woo her back to himself. “Therefore, I will now allure her…” If we are not careful here we can twist the image of verse 14 into one of deception and violence. We’ve seen enough TV shows or movies where a villain bent on doing harm seduces a young woman to a secluded place so that he might have his way with her. That is not what is happening here. To attribute to God any sense of deception or coercion would go against the overwhelming testimony of the Old and New Testaments concerning the nature of God.
No, God is calling Israel to the wilderness, where his is the only voice she can hear. He will “speak tenderly to her;” literally, God will speak to her heart. The image here is that of two persons at\ the beginning of a relationship where words of trust are spoken. God’s tender speaking will not be the only thing that God offers Israel; he will offer her vineyards and hope.
Verse 15 takes us back to the beginning of things between Israel and God after the covenant at Mt. Sinai where God began to fulfill his promise to give Israel a land flowing with milk and honey. The reference to the “Valley of Achor” is to remind Israel of the incident with Achan in Joshua 7:24-26. Israel engaged in a battle and was commanded to not keep any of the spoils for themselves. Achan, however, did not listen and was eventually found out. The place was named the Valley of Achor, which means “Valley of Trouble,” because of the trouble Israel experienced resulting from Achan’s sin. Achor will no longer be a place of trouble, but an entrance leading to hope. God is taking Israel back to the beginning and renewing his covenant with her. For Israel’s part, she will respond as she did in those early days when she first came up out of Egypt.
On That Day… 2:16-23
The phrase, “On that day” signifies a day in the future when God will act definitively on Israel’s behalf. It marks a time in the future. Some scholars believe that Hosea does not intend for us to believe that these things will happen within his historical lifetime, but rather in some distant future. Some have argued that “On that day” refers to the time of the church. What is clear, however, is that God is speaking about what he will do. The covenant that was breached by Israel will be renewed and God will once again enter into a deep and intimate relationship with Israel. The imagery of this section, however, speaks of an experience of safety and peace that we have not yet fully experienced. Peace and safety are what we still long for today. At the same time, however, as the church, we have experienced a new and fresh uniting with God through Christ. The New Testament uses marital language to speak about this. The church is the “bride of Christ.” We have been united with Christ in our baptism. The promise of “On that day” is both already here but not yet fully completed.
When that day arrives, Israel will call God “My husband” and no longer call him “My Baal.” The Hebrew word translated here as “husband” is used as a way to describe the loving partnership aspect of the marriage relationship. Interestingly enough, the word translated as “Baal” can also be used to describe a marriage relationship; only “Baal,” meaning lord, denotes more of a contractual and dominating master image. Some marriage in Hosea’s time operated that way. Keep in mind that our understanding of what marriage should be is not how it was commonly viewed in biblical times. What Hosea is communicating here is that the relationship that God desires between himself and Israel is not one of a master to servant, but of a relationship between two loving and committed partners. In fact, the relationship between God and Israel will be so good that the whole idea of “Baal” will be removed from Israel’s vocabulary.
Not only will God make a covenant with Israel, but also God will make a covenant on Israel’s behalf with the wild animals, the birds of the air and the creeping things on the ground. You will notice that the order the animals are listed is the order in which they were created. God is working so that the peace and harmony that existed between humanity and the created order in Genesis will be restored. Not only will Israel experience harmony with the created order, but also God will work so that the land will be free from the bow, the sword, and war in general. Israel will be able to go to sleep in safety, not worrying about a threat from nature or from man. It’s obvious at this point that this part of the promise has yet to be fulfilled. Yet, we are given hope from this passage as we long for the time when God fully and finally restores creation.
Up to this point in the section, verses 16-19, God has been making promises related to this new covenant. Continuing with the marriage metaphor, God declares that he will take Israel as his wife forever. The Hebrew word translated as “take you for my wife” is taken from the Hebrew word for “betroth” and “betrothal.” Betrothal in Israel, as it did in many of Israel’s neighbors, required the payment of a “bride price.” The marriage could not be finalized until the groom or groom’s family paid a bride price with material goods (Birch, 37). Two things need to be noted here. First, God is committing to take Israel as his wife, not until “death do us part,” but forever. Second, the bride price will not be the traditional goods offered at an Israelite wedding; they will be righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy and faithfulness. These words, which are not new words in the Old Testament, signify who God is and how God works. They are the words which will describe the quality of God’s covenant relationship with Israel. God will give these things to Israel, and Israel will be expected to give them in return.
Each word by itself helps us understand who God is and how we are to be in return. Righteousness is characterized by actions taken so that others may experience wholeness and wellbeing, as we seek to live in right relationship with them. God will act on Israel’s behalf so that she might experience wholeness. Justice deals with the rights and integrity of relationships within society and on a personal level. God will work on Israel’s behalf to ensure that she receives fair treatment has dignity as persons. Steadfast love communicates the level of committed loyalty to the other person in the relationship. Truly, steadfast love helps us understand the “forever” part of the covenant. The word translated “mercy” is the same one that was used in chapter 1 for one of Hosea’s children. It’s closely related to the word for “womb.” Here God promises the mercy and compassion that he once withheld from Israel because of her unfaithfulness. Finally, we come to faithfulness. Faithfulness gets its own sentence, and as such is being emphasized. It is the quality of the loyalty of the partners in the relationship. This faithfulness can only be understood in light of God’s promise to take Israel as her partner forever (Birch, 37).
Keep in mind; these qualities are not the sole property of God in this covenant relationship. To be sure, God will act toward Israel in righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy and faithfulness, but due to the nature of the relationship that God seeks with Israel, Israel must act toward God with those same qualities. The result of God and Israel acting with those qualities will be that Israel will “know the Lord.” To “know” is more than just an intellectual understanding of an idea, but denotes a knowledge that is experienced on an intimate level. It is often used as a euphemism for the sexual union of a man and a wife, and as such, it fits the marriage metaphor Hosea is using. The point is, when Israel lives in this type of covenantal relationship with God, she will know God on a deeper level then she ever has before. This knowledge will, in turn, help her to live in ever-greater faithfulness to the covenant.
The chapter draws to a close with another instance of “On that day…” On that day all will be made right. Jezreel, which means “God plants” will no longer be a place remembered for the horrible acts that took place there. The land will once again yield its fruits for Israel. God will once again have compassion and pity on his people. God’s people will once again call him by name and he will be their God and they will be his people. The dark words of chapter 1 will be undone.
It is never God’s desire to completely terminate his relationship with us. Israel chose to live in very unfaithful ways, constantly chasing after other things or gods whom she thought could provide for her. She had to reap the consequences of those infidelities, but it was never God’s intention to completely give up on her.
Like Israel, we are God’s special people. God has entered into a relationship with us and promised to provide for us in ways we cannot imagine. Yet often, like Israel, we chase after other things that promise to provide for us. We fall prey to the sin of idolatry and God often gives us over to the consequences of those sins. As with Israel, it is never God’s intention to completely terminate his relationship with us. This passage pleads with us to put ourselves in Israel’s place in this story. So it is now God calling to us, speaking to our hearts, wooing us back into a covenant relationship with him. The dark places in our past, where we have experienced pain and hurt as a result of our sin, God will turn into places that lead to hope.
God’s desire for Israel is his desire for us. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has taken us as his wife for all of time. The price he paid for us is righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness. God is working on our behalf so that we will experience those things. But this is a marriage relationship we are speaking about, and marriage relationships require work to be done by both sides. God, through Christ, has given us righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy and faithfulness, and now we must give those things back in return. It is our proper response to the gift of those things. We fulfill our part of the relationship with God by living in right (righteous) relationship with others, by seeking justice for those who do not have it, by living with steadfast love toward those around us, by giving away mercy and compassion and by being faithful.
As we do those things, and we can do them because the Holy Spirit will help us to, we will move into a greater knowledge of God, which in turn will help us do those things better.
Critical Discussion Questions:
What does God look like in this text/Who is God in this text/What is God doing in this text?
God is exercising a great amount of love and faithfulness toward people who have not been faithful. God is not giving up on Israel and God has not given up on us as his people either. God is constantly working so that we might move into a deeper and fuller relationship with him.
What does holiness/salvation look like in this text?
Our salvation looks like receiving the gifts of righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy and faithfulness from God.
Holiness looks like receiving those gifts from God and then giving them back to God through our use of them with the people around us.
How does an encounter with this story shape who we are and who we should become?
This passage asks us to consider how it is that we are returning God’s gifts of righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy and faithfulness. To the extent that we exercise these qualities, we will be faithful to God’s covenantal relationship with him through Jesus Christ.
Specific Discussion Questions:
Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
After all of Israel’s unfaithfulness, as described by Hosea, why would God now “allure” and “speak tenderly” to Israel? How might the answer to this question describe God’s attitude toward Israel?
The Hebrew word for “Baal” (“lord”) was sometimes used to refer to the husband in a marriage relationship, although more as a master in the master/servant relationship. While the Hebrew word for “husband” denotes more a loving, committed partner. Hosea is highlighting the difference between these two images of the marriage relationship. Why is the difference between the two images important?
In verse 18 God declares that he will make a covenant on Israel’s behalf with the wild animals, birds of the air and the creeping things on the ground. Why does God promise this?
God also promises to abolish implements of war and war itself. Why is that a part of this covenant? Obviously, we still have war. How might we understand the timing of this promise?
In verse 19 God says he will “take you for my wife forever.” The sense here is that God is entering into an engagement period with Israel. At the time, before the wedding could be finalized, the groom must pay the “bride price.” God does not offer the traditional items, but offers righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy and faithfulness. Define each of those terms. What does it mean for God to offer these things as a price for Israel?
These words describe how God will act toward Israel (and us, as we live in a covenantal relationship with God through Jesus). As with all relationships, each party must live up to a set of expectations. Does God expect that we act toward him in these ways too? If yes, how might we do that? Out of righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness, which is the hardest for you to practice in your relationship with God and others?
Bruce C. Birch, Hosea, Joel, and Amos, ed. Patrick D. Miller and David L. Bartlett, Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 37.